[EDITORIALS]Let the defectors depart

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[EDITORIALS]Let the defectors depart

Problems associated with tens of thousands of North Korean defectors in China are surfacing again as an international issue. On Thursday, 25 North Korean defectors broke into the Spanish Embassy in Beijing, and are staging a sit-in there, demanding to be recognized as refugees. They want to be sent to South Korea. Because North Korean defectors can be considered as our citizens, the South Korean government should cooperate with the Spanish government in negotiations with China in order to meet the defectors' demands.

First, we urge that the Chinese government handle the incident amicably according to the precedent set last June. At that time, the family of Jang Gil-su entered the Beijing office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and demanded that they be sent to South Korea. The seven North Korean defectors were not recognized as refugees by the Chinese government, but they were sent to the South after four days and through a third country. Because Beijing was quick to make the decision, international society was given a positive impression that China cares about human rights.

The Chinese government should pay close attention to the statement released by the 25 North Korean defectors at the Spanish Embassy. Most of them escaped from the North last year, but the Chinese police captured them and sent them back to the North. After spending time in detention camps, they crossed the border again. We can easily imagine what they will face in the North if they are extradited there again. The defectors said they would commit suicide if they have to go back. Beijing should adjudicate the case on humanitarian grounds, not on political considerations about its relations with Pyeongyang.

North Korea should also handle this matter quietly as it did with the similar case last year. Spain, while serving as the European Union's rotating president last year, promised negotiations on human rights issues with North Korea. The North should not let the problems associated with the defectors hinder its efforts to improve relations with the European Union. Pyeongyang wants to attract 200,000 foreign tourists for its Arirang festival in April, so it should not make things more difficult for itself by opposing the departure of the refugees.
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